These Are The People In Your Neighborhood
Everyone knows all the cliches associated with the second year. For musicians, they try hard to avoid the "sophomore slump". For newlyweds the newness has started to wear off. I guess all of the above apply to me. There is plenty to say, but have I said it before? The names and faces may have changed but the stories, I'm sad to say, have not.
Last year I was annoyed at some things, but that annoyance was overshadowed by the fact that I was happy to have a job, much less a job in education, period. Anyone who has ever tried to teach in the state of NJ will back me up on this one: getting a teaching job, especially for the first time, is tough. So sure the district might not have been my first choice, but I had friends who were still out there, pounding the pavement, so beggars can't be choosers, right?
But now, rapidly heading to the halfway mark of my second year, I'm beginning to sober up a bit. Things that only semi-annoyed me last year really annoy me this. Big things like the fact that my district insists on having Gifted and Talented classes in a district like mine where the kids would be average any place else. If we need to have a program like that at all, the solution seems obvious. You make it a pullout program so that these "good and tame" kids can at least mingle with the rest of the lot the rest of the day.
The reason this is a bigger issue this year is because they are going full steam ahead with differentiation in the classroom, which I've written about before. But in order to differentiate learning, the kids, in a word have to be different.
I'm not exaggerating when I tell you that in a room full of 21 students, not one kid in my room always gets it. In fact, most of them don't get it, not the first or even the second or third time. Some days I feel like I must be the worst teacher on Earth. The only saving grace being is it's not just happening to me. Most days feel like Groundhog's Day, reviewing things taught the day before and the day before that to which there is no retention.
Now where some of this might just be normal behavior for kids, in my town it's not. This is where middle class suburbia and the kids in my school split. For the struggling kids in suburbia, the parents, or the tutors the parents hired step in and try their damndest to bring that child up to speed. But where I work, it isn't so and instead, they look to the teacher and the school to pick up the slack. Partly this is because they can't help their children because of the language barrier or they work 3 jobs, but partly this while education is highly valued, actively participating in that education is not.
I know this is a big deal, bigger than last year, based on little milestones along the way. First there was back to school night where less parents than last year came, few of them with questions for me about the program, their child's progress, nothing. Then there is the homework. While last year I had 2 or 3 kids that didn't do the homework consistently, this year that number has increased to 5 or 6, and I'm only talking consistent. So notes go home. Phone calls are made. Conferences are setup. But nothing changes. These kids are 8, 9, 10. If you don't care, why should they?
Then there's the difference in the student population itself. This year I have a harder group and unfortunately, a group I cannot trust. I've already had candy stolen from me, a goodie bag and one of my snow globes broken. No one has admitted to doing this, even anonymously. As a result I have no choice but to punish the whole group, which is a shame. This group, for the most part, is absent of a conscience. They call each other names, constantly. Group work is next to impossible. Physical fighting has happened more than once, including one student biting another.
Now you might just say this is the luck of the draw, the group I got this year, and I'd love to believe and agree with you on that. But I'm no dummy. I'm talking to the other teachers. I'm talking to people in K, 1 and 2. And they are seeing it too. The fact of the matter is it's not getting better, if anything it's getting worse. And to bring things full circle, if a program like Gifted & Talented stays in the school in the way it currently exists, the seperation between the "haves" and the "have-nots" will only increase further, not to mention making it impossible to have success in a classroom overrun by Deyfuss cases, discipline problems and low test scores.
But where there are differences, there are glaring similarities. One thing occured to me this year that might seem silly to you, but to me is too simple to ignore. If there's one thing these kids have in common, it's family. Most of the families are broken, the only real twisted comfort being they are surrounded by people just like them. No, these kids have family in common, and in many cases, it's the same family.
I'd venture a wild guess in saying there are about 20 commonly known last names floating around my school. More often than not the kids with the same names are brothers. Or sisters. Or my personal favorite, cousins. Everyone is everyone's cousin. In my room alone I have at least 6 cousins, that I know of, though not all related to each other. At least I don't think. One never knows.
Some of you might see where I'm going with this. Annoying Comedians like Jeff Foxworthy have made millions off similar "You might be a redneck if..." sentiments. Let's do the math. If there are about 20 or so common names in the town where I work, and within any given classroom there are at least two sets of cousins, can inbreeding be far behind?
Now don't be a hater. I'm just calling it likes I sees it. My town is fairly large, but not that large. And when everyone and their mother is related what would YOU think? And to be honest, it would explain a hell of a lot. I mean everyone knows dipping the pen in company ink, so to speak, has its drawbacks. And if there is indeed a degree of inbreeding, could that be one explanation as to why test scores are so low, and day to day retention is so hard to come by? It's just one theory. It hasn't been tested or anything, but I'm pretty confident in the hypothetical.
So I chug along, good little second year teacher that I am, but I'm keeping my eyes and ears open. Being a second year teacher ain't all bad. You're better prepared to expect the unexpected. You're still idealistic enough to keep on trying. And you still somehow see the writing on the wall, though what to do about, is another matter entirely.